DeKALB – Last spring, Northern Illinois’ offensive line was trying to prove itself.
The group had lost four starters from the 2011 season, looking to get into a rhythm.
This spring, it’s a complete 180 from last April. All five starters from an offensive line that was a big surprise last year are back, although left tackle Tyler Loos, a second-team All-MAC selection in 2012, isn’t taking part in spring drills after suffering a broken tibia in the fourth quarter of the Toledo game.
Heading into the 2012 season, there were a lot of question marks concerning the offensive line. This time around, there isn’t much doubt surrounding the group’s ability. However, the line still feels like it has something to prove after a performance in the Orange Bowl when they were pushed around by Florida State’s strong defensive line.
“The thing about the Orange Bowl was we didn’t play our best and we left a lot of things on film that we didn’t want,” senior guard Jared Volk said. “That kind of put a chip on our shoulder, made us work even harder. We got a bad taste in our mouths and we want to get that out of our mouth.”
Ryan Brown, who’s taking Loos’ spot at left tackle this spring after playing the last three games of the season there last year, said the line lacked the minor details in the Orange Bowl, such as playing lower and being more physical.
“It really exposed us,” he said. “Those are the teams we really want to play against all the time, and we really need to prove ourselves.”
Chemistry is something the group didn’t necessarily feature last spring. It took time and practice reps for it to really develop shape. For the most part, the offensive line stayed healthy once the season began. Starting center Logan Pegram was lost for the season because of a lower leg fracture in fall camp, but the unit stayed in tact prior to Loos’ injury.
This spring, there’s already cohesiveness.
“We know how everyone plays, we know everyone’s tendancies,” Volk said. “So we’re really comfortable with each other.”
NIU head coach Rod Carey is certainly familiar with his veteran line, having coached them in 2011 and 2012. He’s come to expect a lot, even using the word “dominance.”
“You’ve got everybody coming back. They’ve all worked together and they all know each other,” Carey said. “I want to see that unspoken communication where they can adjust on the fly, and I want to see that dominance that they need to [have] all the time. Not some of the time, all the time.”